A document titled Desiderata is frequently seen in books, posters, wall
hangings, and postcards, often rendered in an antique style and carrying the
explanation: "Found in the Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, dated
1691." Many versions may be found on the internet, some attributed this
way, some labeled "anonymous" or "author unknown".
It's hard to say why this collection of simple-minded platitudes is so popular.
Is it partly because people believe it is old? Actually the attribution to a
document found in 1691 in Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore cannot be correct.
The church was constructed in 1692. Most documents published by the church,
i.e., weekly church-bulletin inserts, bear that date. But this fact turns out to
be irrelevant, for this piece was actually written by an Indiana poet named Max
Ehrman, in about 1926, and registered with the Copyright Office of the Library
of Congress early in 1927. Copyright was renewed after the author's death by his
widow, which would extend the copyright another 30 years, to 1987. If someone
else renewed the copyright again, it may still be protected under U.S. Copyright
Some web sites attribute this correctly to Max Ehrman, and some give
additional information about him.
Any popular piece of kitch of this sort is certain to spawn parodies. The
commonest is called Deteriorata, by Tony Hendra, and there are more
versions of his parody on the web than there are of the original document.